Last night, my boyfriend met my mother for the first time.

Last night, my boyfriend met my mother for the first time.

Technically, they met at our UGA graduation three years ago (we both met each other’s families in passing, then). Yesterday afternoon, I received a text from my mother asking if Ceddy and I wanted to have dinner at her house. I replied that we would. After work, we got stuck in traffic for an hour and a half, but finally made it to Alpharetta at a quarter to eight.

Ceddy gave my mother the orchid we got her. She said it was pretty, but admitted she had a tendency to kill plants. After chastising us for being late (though I called her with a traffic update), we had dinner in the kitchen. Brie and her nanny scurried upstairs. Raf was out with his friends. We faced her without buffers.

For the next hour, we endured a lecture on living in sin and the importance of family (even when they treat you like shit). Ceddy fielded a barrage of questions. He took the high road and apologized to her for offending her and my dad, since that was not our intention when we moved in together. When I started to get angry, he squeezed my hand as a reminder to take yoga breaths.

By the end of the hour, we left Alpharetta with three bags of food. My mother is the passive aggressive hostess. Her selective amnesia allowed her to pass judgment while projecting all of her and my dad’s issues onto us.

In the car, I fidgeted anxiously. As always, Ceddy reassured me that it was no big deal. It’s not our job to make haters (like my mother) see that we are good for each other. All we can do is continue to live our life together.

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Making dramatic proclamations isn’t hereditary.

Making dramatic proclamations isn’t hereditary.

In 1987, Thanksgiving day should have proceeded like ones in years past. My uncle/godfather (my Ninong, which means godfather in Tagalog) was hosting Thanksgiving dinner at his house in Long Island. My aunt, cousins, and extended family gathered around the dining room table, chatting and nibbling on appetizers.

As usual, my mother was running late. Mom finally arrived with my father. Ninong gave them the side-eye as they unbuttoned their bulky coats. It wasn’t like Dad was invited. Thanksgiving (and all other holidays) were strictly family events. Random, sketchy “friends” of his little sister didn’t count. They stood awkwardly by the kitchen.

Ninong frowned at Mom’s swollen stomach.

“Ting, you look bigger. Did you gain weight?”

Dad grabbed Mom’s hand as she spoke.

“Kuya, we’re married. I’ve gained weight because I’m pregnant. The baby is due before Francis’s birthday.”

“WHAT?!”

Everyone froze, watching in horror as Ninong bounded upstairs. He grabbed his shotgun and ran back to the dining room. Dad pushed Mom out the front door.

“YOUR BROTHER IS TRYING TO KILL US!”

“HE WOULDN’T!”

“HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO MY SISTER?!”

“…” (I didn’t exist yet, so I had nothing to contribute.)

After trudging to the Long Island Railroad, my parents caught the next train back to Queens. They ordered takeout from an Indian restaurant. They swore that they were each other’s family. They would do anything to protect it.

A couple months later, Ninong hosted a baby shower at his house. A month after that, I was born. By then, my disapproving Lola and Lolo accepted my parents, too.

Twenty-five years later, my parents believe karma is punishing them for eloping against their parents’ wishes (and everyone else they knew). They haven’t changed or learned anything. They hold grudges for decades. They don’t fix their life, so they try to control everyone else’s. Somehow, our living together is as shocking as their being married and pregnant, when no one knew they were dating. Instead of announcing it at a holiday gathering, I simply replied to my mother’s email asking if I had moved.

We are everything they are not.

Patron saint of hypocrisy

How can I subscribe to
(your version of) religion
when you only ask God for what you want
and ignore the fundamental principle
“love your neighbor as yourself.”

You’re a vessel of hatred
while praying the rosary
(so my happiness disappears)
but the Holy Spirit won’t force me to
“honor my mother.”

When you implore me to go to Mass
and (in the same breath) deliver a diatribe
about things you don’t understand,
I hold my tongue and think,
“You need Jesus.”

Hugs amidst chaos

sibs '93 xmas

Matawan, New Jersey. December 24, 1993.

When you grow up amidst chaos, siblings either stick together or fend for themselves. My siblings and I chose the former. Birthdays, holidays, and weekends were our parents’ potential battlegrounds. Instead of physical aggression (against each other or us), there was constant psychological warfare.

Our parents screamed about each other’s families, parenting techniques, and money. They cursed in English and Tagalog. Mom slashed handbags that Dad gave her and ruined his silk ties into the bathtub. Dad punched walls and drove away, ignoring speed limits and traffic laws.

We retreated to my and Brie’s room to play. Raf read “The Spooky House Old Tree” aloud. Brie smiled, waving her toy ice cream cone in the air. I wrote in my Beauty & the Beast diary. On the few occasions that Raf and I would bicker, our mother protested.

“That is not how good siblings act. You love each other. Hug it out.”

There was rarely ever peace. Raf, Brie, and I relished the quiet moments. The fleeting laughs. We were conditioned to be on our best behavior at all times, lest our mistakes set off one of their fights. By the Christmas of 1993, I had assisted my mother in packing our clothes up three times, each time waiting on those steps by the door with my siblings bundled up in coats.

In spite of the fact that our parents couldn’t follow their own rule (if you love each other, you hug it out), we did. As adults, we’ve become each other’s confidantes and friends. I wouldn’t trade that for the countless days ruined by a volatile couple we begrudgingly called our parents.

How to be a good girl

Thirteen

The first (and most important) rule in the good girls’ code was simple.

“Don’t have sex.”

Not because of health risks, the possibility of pregnancy, or emotional ineptitude.

“Because good girls wait until marriage.”

“Correct, anak. If you don’t have respect for yourself, a man certainly won’t.”

“What if you’re engaged? You and your future husband love and are committed to each other, so why can’t you do it then?”

“If you’re waited all that time, it’s sayang to have sex then.”

“But if you’re going to be together forever anyway, then how is it a waste?”

“Just listen to me, I know from experience.”

Eighteen

Being your mother’s best friend meant being privy to things a daughter should never have to know. Compartmentalizing had become second nature. While Mom would confide in me constantly, I knew better than to tell her everything.

“Anak, last time I was here, the salespeople kept bothering me.”

“It’s Victoria’s Secret, Mom. I’m pretty sure they get paid on commission.”

“They kept following me around the store, asking to help me find what I was looking for.”

“That’s their job.”

“Why are they so nosy, anyway?”

“Why do you care if they know what you’re buying? What did you need, a new bra?”

“Well, I was looking for crotch-less panties.”

Silently, I cursed scientists for pursuing worthwhile research instead of creating brain bleach.

“They don’t sell those anymore. You’ll have to buy them online at from a different company.”

Twenty-five

Setting boundaries with my mother became increasingly difficult from college onward. She claimed she wanted to know about my life, yet overreacted whenever I was upfront.

“I just wish you could be happy for me.”

“I’m supposed to be happy you lost your virginity to your boyfriend?”

“I didn’t.”

“God! All those years I talked to you, you never heard me.”

“No, Mom. I listened, I just don’t agree with you.”

“It’s because of your friends, isn’t it? They’re all having premarital sex, so you wanted to be like them!”

“I think it’s sad that you think I’m worthless because of the status of my hymen. I’m still me.”

“You always said you would wait until you were married, like I did.”

“Yet you still harass Dad about his ex-girlfriends from thirty years ago.”

“So you’re mocking me and my choices?”

“Maybe it would’ve been good for you to date and sleep with other people.”

“Insolent child.”

“I’m not a child anymore. I haven’t been for a long time.”

The Golden Rule

Holy Saturday, 2011

“We’re going to hell, bro.”

“Let’s toast to that, sis.”

I tapped my glass with Raf’s — bourbon & Diet Coke and rum & regular Coke respectively — and drank. We delivered the tithing envelope to St. Benedict’s earlier that evening. Rather than staying for Mass, we went to TJ’s, a sports bar, instead.

Our parents were never the wiser after these excursions. Raf always picked up a weekly bulletin from the vestibule and I kept Febreze in my car to neutralize the lingering stench of bar smoke. Reasoning with our parents about our lack of connection to the church resulted in the same monotonous lecture about faith and tradition.

“A toast — to our tradition –”

“– of having fun, instead of sitting through Mass.”

A random Sunday, summer 2012

Starbucks was surprisingly empty for a Sunday morning.

“How about a table on the patio?”

“Will we be able to hear anything?”

“You brought your earbuds, didn’t you?”

“Yeah — plus, we don’t wanna be those people watching a show while people are trying to do work in peace.”

“Watching and reacting to the show, you mean.”

Initially, I was skeptical. Game of Thrones sounded nerdy as hell. However, once we started watching the day before, we only stopped the marathon to eat and sleep. Somehow, we were more compelled by these fictional storylines than by any sermons we had heard.

Easter Sunday, 2013

“What is this — you guys get drunk so you don’t have to go to Mass?!”

We shrugged at our mother, wine glasses in hand.

“Too bad, you’ll just have to sober up. We’re going together as a family.”

An hour later while driving to church, we ignored our parents’ typical pre-church conversation.

“Stupid asshole just cut me off, Ting!”

“He’s probably a Korean. You know they can’t drive, Fran.”

“I hope it’s not Father Charles today. His sermons are so boring.”

“His Nigerian accent is hard to understand.”

I finally cut in. “You always fall asleep during his sermons. So what’s the point of going to Mass, when you get nothing out of it?”

“It’s important to go to Mass, anak.”

We exchanged exasperated looks. Our dad’s Filipino accent suddenly materialized, as it did whenever he was trying to impart wisdom. We tuned out the rest of the lecture. Today was no different from any other Sunday.

Still, we had hope. Treating others the way you wanted to be treated was the message we internalized from years of being dragged to church. Perhaps one day, our parents would realize the same.